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Pregnant and Looking for Work? Attack Stereotypes Head-On

pregnant woman, job search, stereotypes
Pregnant women looking for a job can take steps to minimize discrimination. / Credit: Pregnant woman image via Shutterstock

While it is often a difficult task for pregnant women to find new work due to the discrimination they sometimes face, there are steps they can take to make it easier, new research suggests.

A study funded by Rice University discovered that pregnant women can minimize the discrimination they face while searching for jobs by addressing negative pregnancy stereotypes in the application process.

The research is the first of its kind to examine four potential stereotypes driving hostile attitudes and discriminatory behaviors toward pregnant job applicants — incompetence, a lack of commitment, inflexibility and a need for accommodation — and how they can overcome these stereotypes.  

The experiment measured formal discrimination (whether applicants for retail positions were told a job was available and were allowed to complete a job application), as well as interpersonal discrimination (whether sales personnel attempted to prematurely end the conversation, pursed their lips, exhibited hostility, treated the applicant rudely, furrowed their eyebrows and seemed awkward). The study included 161 retailers, all of which were hiring, in three malls in a major metropolitan area.

The study revealed that ratings from three perspectives — those of applicants, observers and independent evaluators — converged to show that pregnant job applicants received more interpersonal hostility than their nonpregnant job peers. However, it also revealed that pregnant job applicants who addressed these stereotypes when inquiring about jobs, particularly their personal levels of commitment and flexibility, were nearly three times less likely to experience interpersonal discrimination compared with those who said nothing to combat pregnancy stereotypes.

The study's lead author, Whitney Botsford Morgan — a Rice University alumna who is currently an assistant professor of management at the University of Houston-Downtown — said it is no secret that this type of discrimination toward pregnant women exists.

"This research helps us understand what can be done to reduce it," Morgan said. "Statements that refute stereotypes about being inflexible and lacking commitment are particularly effective."

Mikki Hebl, a professor of psychology at Rice University and the study's co-author, said understanding what counterstereotypical information is effective in reducing discrimination is critical for pregnant women to know so they can act or provide information to combat to such stereotypes.

"Pregnant women are well advised to know that negative stereotypes exist, and that they can do something about them," Hebl said. "In addition, human resources departments also can benefit from focusing their employee training initiatives on the inclusion of effective counterstereotypical information that redresses pregnancy discrimination."

The research, which appeared in the September issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology, was also co-authored by Rice University alumnae Sarah Singletary Walker, now an assistant professor of management at the University of Houston-Downtown, and Eden King, currently an associate professor of psychology at George Mason University.

Originally published on BusinessNewsDaily.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years in media. A 1998 journalism graduate of Indiana University, Chad began his career with Business News Daily in 2011 as a freelance writer. In 2014, he joined the staff full time as a senior writer. Before Business News Daily, Chad spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Chad has also worked on the other side of the media industry, promoting small businesses throughout the United States for two years in a public relations role. His first book, How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business, was published in 2014. He lives with his wife and daughter in the Chicago suburbs.